SG members sit in as state lawmakers discuss changes to Bright Futures
When he learned the Florida Legislature planned a meeting to discuss possible changes to the Bright Futures scholarship, Stefano Portigliatti, Student Government (SG) director of the Department of Government Affairs, headed for Tallahassee.
On Thursday, Portigliatti and Nicole Garcia, SG senator for the College of Arts and Sciences, attended a Committee on Higher Appropriations meeting, where it debated five possible solutions for the depleting state funds that support the Bright Futures program.
The committee looked at increasing the eligibility requirements for high school graduates, shifting the system to a financial-need based program, raising renewal requirements, discontinuing students from restoring the scholarship after it is lost and reducing the amount of money that would be covered by Bright Futures.
“The program was created in 1997, and the participation of the students that have been able to get Bright Futures has increased by 300 percent,” Garcia said of the high numbers of recipients, which has led to the program’s restructuring.
Much of the revenue to support the scholarship comes from Florida Lottery funds. But because of the unstable economy, that revenue has decreased.
Jane Fletcher, staff director of the Florida Legislature Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, presented statistics at the meeting that proposed changing the SAT requirements required for qualification.
According to www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org, students must have a minimum SAT score of 1270 and a weighted GPA of 3.5 to be awarded the Florida Academic Scholars Award (FAS), a level of Bright Futures. For a student to qualify for the Florida Medallion Scholars Award (FMS) – another level – they must have a minimum SAT score of 970 and a weighted GPA of 3.0.
The statistics presented at the meeting showed that if the qualifying SAT score for the FAS was raised to 1290 and the FMS score rose to 1020, 32 percent of African Americans, 23 percent of Hispanics, 28 percent of those who qualify for free or reduced lunch and 27 percent of those who don’t speak English as their primary language would lose eligibility.
Students must also complete 75 hours of community service to qualify for the FAS award.
“If they change the GPA requirements or the number of hours that students have to do volunteering (and) they do it too high, students who are in their junior or senior year will be prevented from enrolling (in college),” Garcia said.
Garcia said the committee also proposed a requirement for students who leave the state within five years after graduating from college to refund their scholarship back to the state.
“I just think it will be devastating,” Garcia said. “But that’s one thing that they are looking at because the essence of Bright Futures is to keep the bright minds here in the state of Florida.”
Portigliatti said this movement isn’t “democratic.”
“As a senator, I was elected to inform the students about the SG aspect of student life, but especially something that is going to affect such a large population of our students,” he said. “Right now, they are looking into other programs … In the end, they are going to have to do something.”
When the committee asked for input, Portigliatti gave his opinion on what should be done.
“Here’s what happens: one of the issues is that people who have plenty of money still get Bright Futures, people who could afford to pay for school still get Bright Futures, so, of course, you have the Republicans saying that they should still get it and the Democrats are saying, ‘No, they should pay for it,” Portigliatti said. “What I was saying was that if you already have other scholarships or pre-paid funding … then if you have Bright Futures, let the other things cover the rest of the expenses.”
Portigliatti said what made the trip fulfilling was that “they were giving the Bright Futures issue that much attention.”